There is ample empirical evidence that supports a positive relationship between economic development and a stable polity. Uncertainty about a government's tenure and frequent change of government do not augur well for a nation's economic performance. Lack of continuity of policies, policy switches where the incumbent government reverses the policies of the previous one, too short a policy horizon, frequent roll-backs in the face of opposition, pandering to the whims of supporting parties, etc, are the major ills that accompany political instability. These, in turn, result in inoptimal policies suited primarily to the near-term, lower investment overall both from within and overseas, and divert the investment that does occur into less risky, less-productive activities. Inevitably, economic performance suffers, the worst affected being those at the lower end of the income spectrum. It is, therefore, very important that a government completes its full term. In the specific Indian context, two constitutional provisions would make for much greater political stability and are unarguably the need of the hour.
First, the law should provide that the single largest party - whether at the Centre or the states - gets to form the government for the full term of five years. Second, the law should proclaim that no elected representative at the Centre or the states can change party affiliation in the course of a given term; after all, the individual in question has been elected on a specific party ticket. These provisions would make redundant support from other parties for the purpose of government formation. Further, they would also prevent any fissures within the ruling party from jeopardising the government. There may well be coteries interested in moving into the saddle, but they would have to hold their ambitions in check till the next election.
This would not only encourage better economic performance but would also have a number of other benefits. It would reduce wastage of public money on unnecessary elections. It would reduce corruption by obviating cash-for-vote payouts to prove the majority of one's government. It would reduce the agency of independents and very small parties, leading to a decline in their numbers, and make it easier for the electorate to gauge alternative candidates during the elections.
These constitutional amendments would require a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament. While neither the Congress nor the BJP has enjoyed such dominance for the last quarter century, it is surely in their interest to work together to achieve it, with help from their allies. Thus, in the Lok Sabha, the Congress, BJP and nominated members put together currently have 319 seats, which is 42 short of the two-thirds majority. In the Rajya Sabha, the Congress, BJP and nominated members have 129 seats, or about 34 short of the magic number. There is little reason why the two major parties cannot work together to muster the requisite support from 'friendly' parties such as the DMK, NCP, RLD, JD(U) and possibly others, for there is a strong incentive for these smaller parties to join in- namely, self-interest. Many of these smaller parties lead, or have led, or hope to lead again, various state governments, and they would benefit just as much from the suggested amendments. One has seen time and time again, the instability of state governments, toppled by either splits from within, or withdrawal of support. A classic case in point is Goa which has seen 14 governments from 1990 and 2005.
However, given the recent turn of events, this appears even more difficult than it would be in the normal course of things. It would be advisable to push these amendments through, for though it is the Congress-led government that may be on the brink today, tomorrow it could be a BJP-led government, or indeed a third front.
As Helen Keller reminded us, "It's a terrible thing to see and have no vision".
Sunil Kanwar, Professor, Department of Economics, Delhi School of Economics
The views expressed by the author are personal